FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Dave Welch, 713-459-9164
March 20, 2012
TO: Hon. Annise Parker
Hon. Member of the Houston City Council
RE: Proposed “Feeding Ordinance”
FROM: Dave Welch, Executive Director
After meeting with Councilman James Rodriguez as well as Andy Icken, Patrick Key and Stephen Williams from the City of Houston last week, we understand the need to address some concerns in specific areas of the city. It was evident however, that much can be accomplished by better coordination, communication and cooperation through existing community resources before any burdensome and intimidating regulations are imposed. We therefore continue to adamantly oppose the adoption of this ordinance, however have offered to help with the above "three c's".
To reiterate our previous concerns, among the reasons we oppose this measure at this time are as follows:
- It is evident by the very vocal and diverse community opposition that due diligence involving all “stakeholders” serving the hungry and homeless was not conducted adequately.
- These concerns should first be first addressed by better enforcement of existing statues regarding private property, trash disposal and public health issues.
- In Chapter 20-5 (b) (1) (c) it asserts that we must prove to the “health officer”, “Evidence establishing that the feeding location is consistent with the need to provide such service in and meets the needs of the adjacent community.”
- What does that mean? Who decides what is “consistent with the need?” Where are those criteria and who established them based on what demographic studies?
- The clause, “including, but not limited to” appears a number of times and is clearly an open ended extension of authority to a “health officer” or bureaucracy to interpret. This is far too subjective and will create confusion, arbitrary parameters and diminishment of those willing to navigate the dangers of running afoul and being fined.
- In Chapter 20-5 (c) it requires that “the health officer shall inspect the proposed locations to determine compliance with the provisions of this section.
- This ordinance approves just one person for a city of over 2 million people to conduct these inspections. Since that is an impossible task, the expansion of the bureaucracy is inevitable.
- The draconian nature of the fine itself is enough to discourage most legitimate groups, organizations, churches, etc. from performing this desperately needed service.
A new bureaucracy of any kind is at best inefficient and at worst oppressive to citizens caught under its jurisdiction. In this case, that reality translates to food not getting to those in need when they need it. It doesn’t matter what other cities are doing. This is Houston and we don’t believe government has to micromanage the charitable work of its citizens, nor - even unintentionally - harming those it is there to protect.